RFID Is Going to Bring Material Changes

Everything from pallets to shopping carts is likely to be redesigned with RF-friendly materials in the coming years.
Published: November 3, 2006

Commentators like to say that radio frequency identification changes everything. I don’t know about “everything”—that’s a pretty broad statement—but RFID is certainly going to change the materials used in many assets used in the supply chain…and perhaps even shopping carts.

I was reminded of this point last week while listening to a presentation given by Mike Haley, chief technology officer at BP. Haley talked about a wide variety of RFID projects BP has undertaken. We covered many of them in our cover story for the October 2004 issue of RFID Journal magazine. One new one he mentioned was tracking pressurized containers.

BP was replacing some of its containers with new, lighter composite containers that have “windows” so you can see how much gas or liquid is left inside. Because the containers were no longer metal, BP decided to put passive UHF RFID tags on them and track them through the supply chain. The tags are easy to read on the composite material.

BP has gotten an unexpected benefit from this process—it only has to have 10 percent of the containers inspected. That’s because the authorities trust that if there are problems with some containers, they can be identified quickly and taken out of circulation.

Companies won’t throw out perfectly good supply-chain assets, such as wood pallets and returnable transport items. However, as items are replaced, smart companies will phase out assets that would be hard to track with RFID, replacing them with similar products made with RF-friendly materials. Metal barrels, unit-load devices, trays, roll cages and even shopping carts could be replaced with products that are lighter, stronger and easier to track with RFID.

Is your procurement department thinking about the materials supply-chain assets are made of? If not…it should be.